Is It Illegal to Email Yourself at a Red Light?

I was asked by a friend/colleague earlier this week what I do when I find inspiration while driving.

I told her that I pull over to the curb, or take advantage of a red light or, if I’m on the highway, get off at an earlier exit (yep, I’ve done that) and simply email myself a quick note from my smartphone. Just last weekend, I had my daughter on high alert next to me, watching the reds, yellows and greens of the intersection, while I sent myself a quick correspondence.

“It’s about to turn green, Mom,” she said, as I pressed “send” just in time, both of us getting a little adrenaline rush.

It hadn’t occurred to me that I was doing was illegal. I know texting while driving is against the law, but is sitting at a stoplight considered “driving.”

I did a quick search and found an LA Times article that tells you everything you need to know about texting and driving in California (I don’t live in California, but I figure all these laws are pretty much the same). Apparently, texting while at a red light is, indeed, illegal. It’s also illegal to email another person while sitting at a stoplight.


Is it illegal to email yourself?

The California law states that if your text-based communication is not going to another “person” you’re not in violation. The law addresses two-way communication only. So, technically speaking, it’s okay to text/email a company or website, because the correspondence is not between two people, although the article states, even if you are not in violation, that an officer can pull you over for “unsafe operation of a motor vehicle.”

Is “myself” considered another person? I’m emailing “me” of two, three, four hours from now. Hey, and what if I put my car in park while I’m at the red light in order to send the email? Have a found a glorious loophole?!

Ugh. My daughter will never go for it. Consider this writer curbed.


4 thoughts on “Is It Illegal to Email Yourself at a Red Light?

  1. That was hysterical. After nearly killing myself and probably many others I have signed a contract with my 15 year old grand daughter. No texting; no answering; no calling; no phone in the car.
    So now I wonder about blue tooth. I find myself looking at it sometimes as I am talking…so no blue tooth either.
    I have been getting a lot of strange looks when I just roll into a neighborhood and pull over to hold a phone conversation.
    It just feels strange!

  2. I’ve tried emailing or phone talking at stop lights, too. It’s distracting in that there is so much pressure to get the phone, ring the caller or write the email or text, all in the span of time allowed. I felt that my concentration was taken off the road and that having to transition suddenly back to driving was unwise. Alas.

  3. Oh, I loved this. Very clever, Dina! My interpretation of the law in my area of Canada that says we may not use “a handheld device while operating a motor vehicle” is that operating the vehicle includes being aware of traffic situations if the engine is running, whether the vehicle is moving or still. So even texting or e-mailing myself would be a violation. Drat! Pulling over to the curb is my only option. A little hand held recording device makes quick note taking quite handy but I still have to pull over to use it.

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